NEVATIM AIR FORCE BASE, Israel - Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade traveled to Metsada, Israel, in order to study the ancient Battle of Masada during Exercise Mediterranean Shock, Nov. 14, 2015.
The 140 paratroopers are in Israel to train with the Israel Defense Forces, allowing the two partners to demonstrate collective readiness, strengthen military-to-military cooperation and to enhance regional interoperability.
A break in training allowed the paratroopers a free day, and hiking up Mount Masada combined both physical and mental activities, as they studied the one of the final events in the First Jewish-Roman War, occurring in the years 73 and 74.
"This is a very unique opportunity to be able to visit and experience this site," said Spc. Jacob Hebner, a radiotelephone operator with Company B, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. "You can read about battles and try to understand them, but it's a lot more relevant, more impactful when you can go to the location itself."
Masada was a mountaintop fortress, fortified by King Herod the Great, but later became a refuge for about 960 Jewish settlers fleeing Jerusalem. In the year 72, the Roman general Lucius Flavius Silva led a Roman legion of about 15,000 people to lay siege on the fortress.
The Romans surrounded the mountain and for two months built a ramp made of earth and rock, to allow their battering rams to breach the fortress walls. When the Roman troops passed through the walls, they found the city in flames and all within its walls dead. The residents had committed mass suicide in order to prevent capture and slavery.
The event is seen as a symbol of heroism and plays a role in the Israeli national identity, with some IDF units scaling the mountain as a part of their graduation from basic training.
For the paratroopers, studying the battle allowed a glimpse into the Israeli psyche, enabling them to better understand their IDF partners.
"If you want to know the nature of this country and fully understand it, you need to go back in time," said Ron Elberg, an IDF veteran and one of the tour guides who accompanied the U.S. paratroopers. "If you don't know history of a place, you'll never understand its people."
The event was treated as a staff ride, a learning tool that the U.S. Army uses to convey the lessons of the past to Soldiers for use in the present day - bringing the battle to life, while standing on the actual place where it happened.
"There are some people who think that you can't learn anything from history, but as the saying goes 'those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it,'" said Hebner. "This is especially pertinent to soldiers. By studying this battle, we are building a better rapport with our IDF partners - allowing us to better know them on a personal level, instead of just while training. We can understand some of the things they've been through - and Israelis have been through a lot."
Elberg concurs, highlighting the fact that events like this can bring Americans and Israelis closer together.
"Israelis are an interesting, but complicated people, it's our history and background, and the neighborhood we live in," said Elberg. "But events like this allow this special bond between the American and Israeli people to run even deeper."
Mediterranean Shock is a part of an ongoing series of exercises that are U.S. Army Europe's method of ensuring that units are able to train, mobiles and deploy anywhere inside is area of operation at a moment's notice.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, and is capable of projecting forces to conduct the full range of military operations across the U.S., European, Central and Africa Commands areas of responsibility.